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Publicists spin as MS seeks AOL-Netscape papers

And the kinder, gentler Gates answers three questions. Take it easy, Bill...

The court of public opinion, possibly more important than the DC court, has been active over the last few days. Microsoft's claims that the AOL-Netscape deal makes the case moot continue to reverberate, but a foul is still a foul, says ProComp, the pro-competition pressure group set up to take pops at Microsoft. Microsoft filed yet another motion, this time asking for the court's permission to serve subpoenas on AOL, Netscape, Sun and unspecified investment banks to ferret out details of the deal. The SEC Web site has a major disclosure by the companies involved, but emails (if people still use emails for important business these days) might shed some interesting, not to say embarrassing, light on the background to the deal.

Its financial aspects (Earlier story) certainly suggest that Microsoft lawyers searching for a 'plot' may not be disappointed. Gates' voluntary video appearance at the National Press Club on Monday had an altogether more sartorial Gates in a setting that included a potted plant, a bookcase and a fireplace. This family-man scene was appropriate in view of Gates 2.0 being expected in June, a brother or sister for two-year-old Jennifer. It has also just become known that Gates has purchased a lot in The Reserves, a Californian golfing community about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, for $135 million. Although said to be a news conference, Gates' handlers were only allowing two questions, extended to three after some moaning, and all were about his deposition. His arguments were a re-hash of what had been said previously. One questioner asked why he was not a direct witness, and the stock reply was that Microsoft had chosen witnesses most closely associated with the areas of focus in the case. The $100 million gift by Gates and his wife Melinda increasingly looked like a PR exercise, although Gates resorted to saying that if he had paused "until Microsoft was non-controversial, you know, a lot of kids would go without vaccines for a lot of time".

Newsweek billed the interview as portraying a "kindler, gentler Bill". A significant comment by David Boies, the DoJ's trial attorney who was accused by Gates of "being out to destroy Microsoft" was that what Gates said out of court was not under oath. Boies is certainly trying to tempt Gates to a give direct evidence. He noted that the central issue of the trial is whether Microsoft's Windows monopoly inhibits market development. There is an interesting difference between US and English judicial procedures (Scottish law doesn't enter into this, because the trial is being conducted largely on the equity principles of English common law that were adopted by the rebel colony). Microsoft has been running full-page advertisements in the WSJ, the New York Times and the Washington Post to plead its case - something unthinkable in England. While the trial continues, Microsoft is trying to claim it is business as usual. Whether the decreased media coverage for new Microsoft products will be significant is hard to say, but Microsoft's results for the next two or three quarters should make interesting reading. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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